'It all arose, you must know, from Andrey being fond of a drop of drink at that time though he's a sober enough man now by all account, so much the better for him. Jane, his bride, you see, was somewhat older than Andrey; how much older I don't pretend to say; she was not one of our parish, and the register alone may be able to tell that. But, at any rate, her being a little ahead of her young man in mortal years, coupled with other bodily circumstances owing to that young man '
('Ah, poor thing!' sighed the women.)
' made her very anxious to get the thing done before he changed his mind; and 'twas with a joyful countenance (they say) that she, with Andrey and his brother and sister-in-law, marched off to church one November morning as soon as 'twas day a'most, to be made one with Andrey for the rest of her life. He had left our place long before it was light, and the folks that were up all waved their lanterns at him, and flung up their hats as he went.
'The church of her parish was a mile and more from where she lived, and, as it was a wonderful fine day for the time of year, the plan was that as soon as they were married they would make out a holiday by driving straight off to Port Bredy, to see the ships and the sea and the sojers, instead of coming back to a meal at the house of the distant relation she lived wi', and moping about there all the afternoon.
'Well, some folks noticed that Andrey walked with rather wambling steps to church that morning; the truth o't was that his nearest neighbour's child had been christened the day before, and Andrey, having stood godfather, had stayed all night keeping up the christening, for he had said to himself, "Not if I live to be a thousand shall I again be made a godfather one day, and a husband the next, and perhaps a father the next, and therefore I'll make the most of the blessing." So that when he started from home in the morning he had not been in bed at all. The result was, as I say, that when he and his bride-to-be walked up the church to get married, the pa'son (who was a very strict man inside the church, whatever he was outside) looked hard at Andrey, and said, very sharp:
' "How's this, my man? You are in liquor. And so early, too. I'm ashamed of you!"
' "Well, that's true, sir," says Andrey. "But I can walk straight enough for practical purposes. I can walk a chalk line," he says (meaning no offence), "as well as some other folk: and " (getting hotter) "I reckon that if you, Pa'son Billy Too good, had kept up a christening all night so thoroughly as I have done, you wouldn't be able to stand at all; d me if you would!"
'This answer made Pa'son Billy as they used to call him rather spitish, not to say hot, for he was a warm-tempered man if provoked, and he said, very decidedly: "Well, I cannot marry you in this state; and I will not! Go home and get sober!' And he slapped the book together like a rat-trap.
'Then the bride burst out crying as if her heart would break, for very fear that she would lose Andrey after all her hard work to get him, and begged and implored the pa'son to go on with the ceremony. But no.
' "I won't be a party to your solemnizing matrimony with a tipsy man," says Mr. Too good. "It is not right and decent. I am sorry for you, my young woman, seeing the condition you are in, but you'd better go home again. I wonder how you could think of bringing him here drunk like this!"
' "But if if he don't come drunk he won't come at all, sir!" she says, through her sobs.
' "I can't help that," says the pa'son; and plead as she might, it did not move him. Then she tried him another way.
' "Well, then, if you'll go home, sir, and leave us here, and come back to the church in an hour or two, I'll undertake to say that he shall be as sober as a judge," she cries. "We'll bide here, with your permission; for if he once goes out of this here church unmarried, all Van Amburgh's horses won't drag him back again!"
' "Very well," says the parson. "I'll give you two hours, and then I'll return."
' "And please, sir, lock the door, so that we can't escape!" says she.
' "Yes," says the parson.
' "And let nobody know that we are here."
'The pa'son then took off his clane white surplice, and went away; and the others consulted upon the best means for keeping the matter a secret, which it was not a very hard thing to do, the place being so lonely, and the hour so early. The witnesses, Andrey's brother and brother's wife, neither one o' which cared about Andrey's marrying Jane, and had come rather against their will, said they couldn't wait two hours in that hole of a place, wishing to get home to Longpuddle before dinner-time. They were altogether so crusty that the clerk said there was no difficulty in their doing as they wished. They could go home as if their brother's wedding had actually taken place and the married couple had gone onward for their day's pleasure jaunt to Port Bredy as intended. He, the clerk, and any casual passer-by would act as witnesses when the pa'son came back.
'This was agreed to, and away Andrey's relations went, nothing loath, and the clerk shut the church door and prepared to lock in the couple. The bride went up and whispered to him, with her eyes a-streaming still.
' "My dear good clerk," she says, "if we bide here in the church, folk may see us through the windows, and find out what has happened; and 'twould cause such a talk and scandal that I never should get over it: and perhaps, too, dear Andrey might try to get out and leave me! Will ye lock us up in the tower, my dear good clerk?" she says. I'll tole him in there if you will."
'The clerk had no objection to do this to oblige the poor young woman, and they toled Andrey into the tower, and the clerk locked 'em both up straightway, and then went home, to return at the end of the two hours.
'Pa'son Toogood had not been long in his house after leaving the church when he saw a gentleman in pink and top boots ride past his windows, and with a sudden flash of heat he called to mind that the hounds met that day just on the edge of his parish. The pa'son was one who dearly loved sport, and much he longed to be there.
'In short, except o' Sundays and at tide-times in the week, Pa'son Billy was the life o' the Hunt. 'Tis true that he was poor, and that he rode all of a heap, and that his black mare was rat-tailed and old, and his tops older, and all over of one colour, whitey-brown, and full o' cracks. But he'd been in at the death of three thousand foxes. And being a bachelor man every time he went to bed in summer he used to open the bed at bottom and crawl up head foremost, to mind en of the coming winter and the good sport he'd have, and the foxes going to earth. And whenever there was a christening at the Squire's, and he had dinner there afterwards, as he always did, he never failed to christen the chiel over again in a bottle of port wine.
'Now the clerk was the parson's groom and gardener and general manager, and had just got back to his work in the garden when he, too, saw the hunting man pass, and presently saw lots more of 'em, noblemen andgentry, and then he saw the hounds, the huntsman, Jim Treadhedge, the whipper in, and I don't know who besides. The clerk loved going to cover as frantical as the pa'son, so much so that whenever he saw or heard the pack he could no more rule his feelings than if they were the winds of heaven. He might be bedding, or he might be sowing all was forgot. So he throws down his spade and rushes in to the pa'son, who was by this time as frantical to go as he.
' "That there mare of yours, sir, do want exercise bad, very bad, this morning!" the clerk says, all of a tremble. "Don't ye think I'd better trot her round the downs for an hour, sir?"
' "To be sure, she does want exercise badly. I'll trot her round myself," says the parson.
' "Oh you'll trot her yerself? Well, there's the cob, sir. Really that cobis getting oncontrollable through biding in a stable so long! If you wouldn't mind my putting on the saddle "
' "Very well. Take him out, certainly," says the pa'son, never caring what the clerk did so long as he himself could get off immediately. So, scrambling into his riding-boots and breeches as quick as he could, he rode off towards the meet, intending to be back in an hour. No sooner was he gone than the clerk mounted the cob, and was off after him. When the pa'son got to the meet he found a lot of friends, and was as jolly as he could be: the hounds found a'most as soon as they threw off, and there was great excitement. So, forgetting that he had meant to go back at once, away rides the pa'son with the rest o' the hunt, all across the fallow ground that lies between Lippet Wood and Green's Copse; and as he galloped he looked behind for a moment, and there was the clerk close to his heels.
' "Ha, ha, clerk you here?" he says.
' "Yes, Sir, here be I," says t'other.
' "Fine exercise for the horses!"
' "Ay, sir hee, hee!" says the clerk.
'So they went on and on, into Green's Copse, then across to Higher Jirton; then on across this very turnpike road to Waterston Ridge, then away towards Yalbury Wood: up hill and down dale, like the very wind, the clerk close to the pa'son, and the pa'son not far from the hounds. Never was there a finer run knowed with that pack than they had that day; and neither pa'son nor clerk thought one word about the unmarried couple locked up in the church tower waiting to get j'ined.
' "These hosses of yours, Sir, will be much improved by this!" says the clerk as he rode along, just a neck behind the pa'son. " 'Twas a happy thought of your reverent mind to bring 'em out to-day. Why, it may be frosty and slippery in a day or two, and then the poor things mid not be able to leave the stable for weeks." '
"They may not, they may not, it is true. A merciful man is merciful to his beast," says the pa'son.
' "Hee, hee!" says the clerk, glancing sly into the pa'son's eye.
' "Ha, ha!" says the pa'son, a-glancing back into the clerk's.
"Halloo!" he shouts, as he sees the fox break cover at that moment. ' "Halloo!" cries the clerk. "There he goes! Why, dammy, there's two foxes "
' "Hush, clerk, hush! Don't let me hear that word again! Remember our calling."
' "True, sir, true. But really, good sport do carry away a man so, that he's apt to forget his high persuasion!" And the next minute the corner o fthe clerk's eye shot again into the corner of the pa'son's, and the pa'son's back again to the clerk's. "Hee, hee!" said the clerk.
' "Ha, ha! " said Pa'son Toogood.
' "Ah, sir," says the clerk again, "this is better than crying Amen to your Ever-and-ever on a winter's morning!"
' "Yes, indeed, clerk! To everything there's a season," says Pa'son Toogood, quite pat, for he was a learned Christian man when he liked, and had chapter and ve'se at his tongue's end, as a pa'son should.
'At last, late in the day, the hunting came to an end by the fox running into a' old woman's cottage, under her table, and up the clock-case. The pa'son and clerk were among the first in at the death, their faces a-staring in at the old woman's winder, and the clock striking as he'd never been heard to strik' before. Then came the question of finding their way home.
'Neither the pa'son nor the clerk knowed how they were going to do this, for their beasts were well nigh tired down to the ground. But they started back along as well as they could, though they were so done up that they could only drag along at a' amble, and not much of that at a time.
' "We shall never, never get there!" groaned Mr. Toogood, quite bowed down.
' "Never!" groans the clerk. " 'Tis a judgment upon us for our iniquities!"
' "I fear it is," murmurs the pa'son.
'Well, 'twas quite dark afore they entered pasonage gate, having crept into the parish as quiet if they'd stole a hammer, little wishing their congregation to know what they'd been up to all day long. And as they were so dog-tired, and so anxious about the horses, never once did they think of the unmarried couple. As soon as ever the horses had been stabled and fed, and the pa'son and clerk had had a bit and a sup theirselves, they went to bed.
'Next morning when Pa'son Toogood was at breakfast, thinking of the glorious sport he'd had the day before, the clerk came in a hurry to the door and asked to see him.
' "It has just come into my mind, sir, that we've forgot all about the couple that we was to have married yesterday!"
'The half-chawed victuals dropped from the pa'son's mouth as if he'd been shot. "Bless my soul," says he, so we have! How very awkward!"
' "It is, sir; very. Perhaps we've ruined the 'ooman!"
' "Ah to be sure I remember! She ought to have been married before."
' "If anything has happened to her up in that there tower, and no doctor or nuss "
('Ah poor thing!' sighed the women.)
' " 'twill be a quarter sessions matter for us, not to speak of the disgrace to the Church!"
' "Good God, clerk, don't drive me wild!" says the pa'son. " Why the hell didn't I marry 'em, drunk or sober!" (Pa'sons used to cuss in them days like plain honest men.) "Have you been to the church to see what happened to them, or inquired in the village?"
' "Not I, sir! It only came into my head a moment ago, and I always like to be second to you in church matters. You could have knocked me down with a sparrow's feather when I thought o't, sir; I assure 'ee you could!"
'Well, the pa'son jumped up from his breakfast, and together they went off to the church.
' "It is not at all likely that they are there now, "says Mr. Toogood, as they went; "and indeed I hope they are not. They be pretty sure to have escaped and gone home."
However, they opened the church-hatch, entered the churchyard, and looking up at the tower there they seed a little small white face at the belfry-winder, and a little small hand waving. 'Twas the bride.
' "God my life, clerk," says Mr. Toogood, "I don't know how to face 'em!" And he sank down upon a tombstone. "How I wish I hadn't been so cussed particular!"
' "Yes 'twas a pity we didn't finish it when we'd begun," the clerk said. "Still, since the feelings of your holy priest craft wouldn't let ye, the couple must put up with it."
' "True, clerk, true! Does she look as if anything premature had took place?"
' "I can't see her no lower down than her arm-pits, sir."
' "Well how do her face look?"
' "It do look mighty white!"
' "Well, we must know the worst! Dear me, how the small of my back do ache from that ride yesterday! . . . But to more godly business!"
'They went on into the church, and unlocked the tower stairs, and immediately poor Jane and Andrey busted out like starved mice from a cupboard, Andrey limp and sober enough now, and his bride pale and cold, but otherwise as usual.
' "What," says the pa'son, with a great breath of relief, "you haven' t been here ever since?"
' "Yes, we have, sir!" says the bride, sinking down upon a seat in her weakness. "Not a morsel, wet or dry, have we had since! It was impossible to get out without help, and here we've stayed!"
' "But why didn't you shout, good souls?" said the pa'son.
' "She wouldn't let me," says Andrey.
' "Because we were so ashamed at what had led to it," sobs Jane. "We felt that if it were noised abroad it would cling to us all our lives! Once or twice Andrey had a good mind to toll the bell, but then he said: "No; I'll starve first. I won't bring disgrace on my name and yours, my dear." And so we waited and waited, and walked round and round; but never did you come till now!"
' "To my regret!" says the parson. "Now, then, we will soon get it over."
' "I I should like some victuals," said Andrey; " 'twould gie me courage to do it, if it is only a crust o' bread and a' onion; for I am that leery that I can feel my stomach rubbing against my backbone."
' "I think we had better get it done," said the bride, a bit anxious in manner; " since we are all here convenient, too!"
'Andrey gave way about the victuals, and the clerk called in a second witness who wouldn't be likely to gossip about it, and soon the knot wastied, and the bride looked smiling and calm forthwith, and Andrey limper than ever.
' "Now," said Pa'son Toogood, "you two must come to my house, and have a good lining put to your insides before you go a step further."
'They were very glad of the offer, and went out of the churchyard by one path while the pa'son and clerk went out by the other, and so did not attract notice, it being still early. They entered the rectory as if they'd just come back from their trip to Port Bredy; and then they knocked in the victuals and drink till they could hold no more.
'It was a long while before the story of what they had gone through was known, but it was talked of in time, and they themselves laugh over it now; though what Jane got for her pains was no great bargain after all. 'Tis true she saved her name.'
'Was that the same Andrey who went to the squire's house as one of the Christmas fiddlers?' asked the seedsman.
'No, no,' replied Mr. Profitt, the schoolmaster. 'It was his father did that. Ay, it was all owing to his being such a man for eating and drinking. 'Finding that he had the ear of the audience, the schoolmaster continued without delay:
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